“People cast shadows. Objects cast shadows… But they would flay the surface of the earth for the fantasy of bare light.”
In “Master and Margarita,” Strawdog Theatre’s noteworthy ensemble plays with shadow and light like a gleeful game of cat’s cradle. The best and worst about a single person or an entire city, private histories, momentous shifts in history, all are knotted into a web of satire, magic, and tragedy that is dizzying to behold.
Kemp’s adaptation of Bulgakov’s novel is orderly and clever, and the cast members seem to delight in their multiple roles and costume changes. Their faces are mostly made up like a ghastly combination of corpse and clown; the brightest colors belong to the demons. The set, with its benches, table and telephones serves by its simplicity both as Ancient Rome and 1930’s Moscow.
Parallels in this play are drawn between the tyranny of Caesar and that of the Soviet Union, between a gentle prophet and a fevered playwright. From there, it is no great leap for an audience to ask: “Why this play? Why now?” Strawdog’s motto is to provoke and inspire. In an age of sensational media, fear and intolerance, we hear the voice of reason from a madman: “They’re angry because they’re writing what they don’t believe,”
The first act moves like lightning, its highest point the magic show. The second act is slower, culminating in a freakishly cool masquerade, but quieting down for a long denouement that releases us too soon from the tensions that suspend our disbelief.
All in all, Master and Margarita was another doozy. It will as soon incite a snort of laughter as a stricken sob. As a nearby audience member exclaimed over intermission, “This is it. This is the real thing.” The Devil may be in Moscow, but Strawdog brings his Moscow to us.